Pre-felt is quick and easy to make. It’s used to make definite shapes in a layout – a shape that’s cut from pre-felt is called an ‘inlay’. Pre-felt is firm enough to cut but loose enough to felt into other fibres.
Pre-felt can be bought ready-made, but if you make your own you can have the exact colour, plain or blended, that you want. You can also add other fibres on top as embellishment.
We’ve used merino wool tops but any wool fibres can be used. Shown below: merino wool tops blended colours and plain.
To make a small piece of pre-felt you will need: merino wool fibres, a round-stick sushi mat, small-bubble bubble-wrap, net, 2 rubber bands, soapy water in a mister/spray bottle, a bar of soap, and an old towel.
Spread an old towel onto your work surface then put a round-stick sushi mat on it. Place a piece of bubble wrap – bubbles down so they will not be against the wool fibres – onto the sushi mat.
Place a tuft of wool fibres, with the fibres running horizontally, onto the bubble wrap, shown below left, then add a second tuft of fibres slightly overlapping the first. Continue laying tufts of wool until you have completed a row, shown below right.
Then add more rows, each row slightly overlapping the one above it, until you have completed the first layer.
Start a second layer by placing a tuft of wool fibres, with the fibres running vertically (i.e. at right angles to the first layer of fibres), on the top left corner of the first layer, shown below left, then continue laying tufts until you have completed a row. Then lay more rows until you have completed the second layer, shown below right.
Cover the wool fibres with a piece of net, then spray warm soapy water over until the fibres are saturated (but not swimming away!)
We prefer to use Olive Oil soap flakes dissolved in water because it’s low-sud, but you can use any soap flakes or dish-wash liquid.
Push down gently on the wool, with flat hands, to encourage the wool to take up the water and to eliminate air pockets.
Hold the net with one hand then carefully draw a bar of soap all over the net. We prefer to use a bar of Olive Oil soap but any soap will work.
Slowly peel the net off…
…then cover the wool fibres with a second piece of bubble wrap, bubbles up so that they are not against the wool. Gently press down all over to flatten the bubble wrap onto the fibres.
Roll it all up snugly in the sushi mat…
…then drain off any excess water.
Put 2 rubber bands around the sushi mat to prevent it unrolling.
Using light pressure, roll the mat 100 times.
We count 1 roll on the sushi mat as going from fingertips through to wrist then back again.
Unroll the mat, smooth and flatten the bubble wrap and fibres, turn it through 90°, as shown below, then roll it up again in the mat and replace the rubber bands.
Using light pressure, roll the mat 100 times. Unroll the mat, smooth and flatten the bubble wrap and fibres, turn it through 90°, then roll it up again in the mat and replace the rubber bands.
Repeat twice more so that the pre-felt has been rolled 400 times (100 times in 4 different directions).
Remove both pieces of bubble wrap then place the wool fibres directly onto the sushi mat. Roll it up, then using light pressure roll it 50 times.
Unroll the mat, turn the wool fibres through 90°, roll the mat up then roll again 50 times.
Repeat twice more so that the fibres have been rolled 200 times (50 times in 4 different directions).
Don’t worry about neatening the edges during felting – they end up looking lacey/cobwebby and can make interesting inlays.
This amount of rolling should result in a soft pre-felt that can be cut, wet or dry, into the shapes you want. It will give you a solid block of colour but the edges will blur into the background fibres.
To achieve a firmer pre-felt, roll it more.
Two pieces of rectangular, turquoise merino pre-felt (inlays) were felted into yellow merino wool fibres, shown below. The top one is a soft pre-felt and you can see how the edges have blurred during felting, whereas the other, shown below it, is a firm pre-felt and the edges are distinct.
If you are going to use the pre-felt straight away there’s no need to rinse the soap out, but if you want to keep it for longer, it’s advisable to rinse the soap out.
The pre-felt is delicate, so take care when rinsing it. The easiest way is to rinse it through the sushi mat until the water runs clear.
Keep the pre-felt rolled in the mat, place it on an old towel then roll it a few times to remove most of the water. Place the pre-felt on a rack to dry.
If you want to make a lot of pre-felts, save rolling time by using a large bamboo mat with several lots of fibres. You can keep them apart or lay them close together then you will get some interesting pre-felt from the joins.
If you’re making a lot of pre-felts for your stash you won’t know whether you will need soft or firm pre-felt for future projects, so make all your pre-felts up to the soft stage then rinse and dry them. When you want to use them you can then choose to leave them soft or wet them to re-work to the firmness you need.